Harrison County

Her brother drowned, but addiction was his killer. Now she wants reform

Michael Carle, 28, with his daughter Rilee Violet Carle. Michael Carle died Thursday of accidental drowning in the Biloxi Small Craft Harbor.
Michael Carle, 28, with his daughter Rilee Violet Carle. Michael Carle died Thursday of accidental drowning in the Biloxi Small Craft Harbor.

A Gulfport woman believes her youngest brother would be alive today if state lawmakers had not chosen to cut funding to a chemical dependency recovery program at Mississippi State Hospital.

Jennifer LaBauve said she had a feeling last week that the next time she would hear from her baby brother, whom she helped raise, would be a phone call saying he was dead.

About 6 p.m. Thursday, Harrison County Coroner Gary Hargrove called her and asked to come by to her house to talk.

“The county coroner doesn’t just call you for a social visit,” LaBauve said.

Michael Carle’s body was found in the Biloxi Small Craft Harbor early Thursday morning. Hargrove said he died of accidental drowning.

LaBauve said her brother may have drowned near the beach, his favorite place in the world, but it was actually his drug addiction that killed him.

“I think it [Carle’s death] was directly related to the drugs,” she said. “There’s nothing to show he did it on purpose. He just loved the beach and he was under the influence of drugs at the time. It was dark at that particular spot he was at.”

LaBauve had begun the process to have her brother committed to the Mississippi State Hospital’s chemical dependency program, but in May, budget cuts meant an end to the program that housed 49 beds and helped 429 men last year, according to The Clarion-Ledger. Another family member of Carle and LaBauve had previously been admitted to the program and has been sober for five years.

“I absolutely believe it could have saved my brother,” LaBauve said. “The only thing that was going to save [Carle] was forcing his hand and making him get help.”

When she heard of the cuts approved by Gov. Phil Bryant, LaBauve was angry. She could not afford to send Carle to a for-profit recovery center, and the waiting list for the mental health unit at MSH would be at least one year, she said.

She said she wants her brother’s death to mean something.

“We should be paying for preventative care,” LaBauve said. “We shouldn’t be funneling money in prisons when we could be paying for mental health that costs so much less than prisons.”

Brother took the wrong path

LaBauve said her brother had been “willingly homeless” for four months. Carle had struggled with drug addiction for a few years, LaBauve said, but had previously lived with her and was doing well. He had moved out earlier in the year and got an apartment with a girlfriend. But when his addiction started to escalate in March, LaBauve said Carle began using methamphetamine. He chose to live on the streets because he did not want others to know. LaBauve said she and other friends often invited Carle to move in to get off the streets.

“He didn’t want that life, but he was pretty ashamed of the path that he had chosen,” LaBauve said.

LaBauve says she feels guilty because she helped raise her brother, and the two of them were always very close. As children, LaBauve and Carle’s mother was a single mom who worked two jobs to pay the bills. LaBauve took care of Carle. She made sure he ate, had clean clothes and would get him up for school every single morning.

“He was literally like my child,” she said. “There was never a ‘no’ from me. That was actually a problem — I could never tell him no,” LaBauve said.

When they were children, their health care was covered by Medicaid. LaBauve said a child psychologist prescribed Carle antidepressant medication when he was a teenager and said he showed symptoms of bipolar disorder and paranoid schizophrenia, but he was not diagnosed with either disorder.

“Doctor recommended that he had it, but he had to wait [for diagnosis] until he got older. By that time, he had phased out of Medicaid,” LaBauve said.

When Carle turned 18, he did not have medical insurance and couldn’t afford to see a physician or psychologist regularly.

“He turned to what a lot of people do when they have mental illness,” LaBauve said. “He turned to self-medication. Street drugs are cheap. It’s easy to find somebody who can sell you Lortabs or Xanax,” she said. After Carle’s death, LaBauve picked up his belongings and accessed his Facebook account. She was shocked at the number of people who sent Carle private messages, offering him various types of drugs.

Sister blames herself

LaBauve said it’s been very hard coping with the death of her brother.

“I’ve cried myself sick,” she said. “It’s tough and it’s hard. He doesn’t have any family — it’s me and my brother. The only family he has is me and my other brother.”

LaBauve said she was trying to show Carle tough love before he died and stopped giving him money when he asked for it and began ignoring his phone calls for a few days, although she would still meet him to give him food, clothing and necessities.

She wanted him to hit rock bottom, she said, so Carle would agree to go Missouri for rehab.

“I swore I was going to save him. I was going to bring him back,” she said. “He has a 3-year-old daughter who is never going to know him, who he hasn’t seen since the addiction took over.”

LaBauve said she had Carle’s body cremated and will hold a private service for him on the beach.

Justin Mitchell: 228-604-0705, @Journalism_J